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Is technology destroying our capacity to think clearly?


MODERN society presents a great many technological perils. Insurance companies are right on to this. International reinsurance giant Swiss Re, in a 2013 report, rated electric and magnetic field (EMF) radiation from cell phone use as one of the top three significant causes of future product liability claims (the other two are endocrine disruptors and nanoparticles).

The use of cell phones, local wireless networks and devices, powerful wireless boosters, bluetooth, etc is ubiquitous. I recently visited Wellington, the New Zealand seat of government. When I turned on my computer I was offered dozens of WiFi connectivity options. You can now buy powerful home WiFi systems with a range of more than a mile, others use 5G technology, powerful police frequencies cover huge areas. I was surrounded by a sea of electromagnetic radiation, as are all big city residents these days.

Research studies debunked the theory that cell phone use causes significant brain tumours over a short time frame and subsequently the talk of safety concerns subsided. Yet four studies by government agencies in the USA and EU have concluded that electro-magnetic radiation is epidemiologically linked with the incidence of childhood leukaemia (O’Carroll and Henshaw, Risk Analysis). 

What has been missed until recently is the fact that the rate of increase in cell phone usage mirrors the growth in incidence of mental illness, especially among the young. For example, the diagnosis of bipolar disorder among children and teens up to age 19 years has increased dramatically since the early 90s.

 There has been some talk about the effect of social isolation in our modern society, but this is not a good enough candidate to explain the huge multiplication of serious mental illness, which had previously been largely confined to adult populations.

More worryingly, EMFs may be affecting everyone in ways not previously anticipated. Early models of brain function suggested that the brain operated mainly through specific chains of chemical reactions and electrical pathways; it is now believed that electric fields also play a critical role in nervous system development and function.

Orderly, coherent patterns of electrical activity in the brain are associated with development of IQ, creativity, concept acquisition, moral reasoning, experiences of clarity, and neurological efficiency. In contrast, fragmented activity in the brain is associated with violent behaviour, anxiety, anger, hyperactivity, and mental disturbance.

Studies show the brain evolves in response to activity and experience and 70 per cent of synaptic connections in the brain change each day. Moreover, the human brain goes through developmental stages up to age 25. This process of brain response and learning, known as neural plasticity, could be scrambled by external electromagnetic fields such as those emitted by cell phones.

The brain is constantly engaged in coordinating and interpreting the activity of neuronal electric impulses, fields, and sensory inputs. If cell phone use is regular and frequent, the brain may start to put in place new neuronal structures in a vain attempt to interpret the invasive EMF signals. These structures would serve no purpose and disrupt the brain, possibly affecting attention, mood and decision-

A recent review paper of research  records that there are electrical mechanisms which lead to neuropsychiatric effects. Epidemiological studies provide substantial evidence that microwave EMFs from cell/mobile phone base stations, excessive cell/mobile phone usage and from wireless smart meters can each produce similar patterns of neuropsychiatric effects, with several of these studies showing clear dose/response relationships. Among the more commonly reported changes are sleep disturbance, headache, depression, fatigue, sensitivity to touch similar to that associated with peripheral nerve damage, attention deficit, memory changes, dizziness, irritability, loss of appetite, anxiety, nausea, skin burning, and EEG changes. The potential military application of these effects has been pursued, but the effects on personal health from everyday EMF exposure has been ignored.

Meanwhile the almost universal use of cell phones and wireless technology and the huge commercial interests at stake ensure that there is continuing media and government silence surrounding concern about their effects. Nor are regulators encouraging research or debate, but rather approving ever more powerful systems.

 The massive rise in mental illness, especially among the young, calls for both an explanation and action to address the situation. Extreme changes in behaviour, materials, environment, and diet have to be at fault and the exact causal parameters need to be identified.

 As with so many global problems connected with technology whose long term effects are unknown, a precautionary approach needs to be adopted. Cell phone use and ubiquitous wireless fields are very good candidates to be causal factors.

The recent introduction of higher power, longer range WiFi networks in cities such as Wellington are likely to multiply potential impacts. The roll out of WiFi networks in schools is also a concern. The argument that WiFi and bluetooth networks utilise less power than cell phones does not stand up to scientific scrutiny as the frequencies used by these systems have the potential to interfere with homeostatic physiological systems (a fundamental of health).

The absolute prevalence of cell phone and WiFi use should not stop us giving credence to such hypotheses, however challenging the implications might be for the way we conduct our everyday lives and business. The capacity of the human brain and the physiology to maintain refined activity and stable emotions is at the heart of our civilisation. It is even plausible that the growing power of EMF radiation could be a causal factor in social instability. It could be destroying our capacity to think clearly. 

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Guy Hatchard
Guy Hatchard
Guy Hatchard PhD is a former senior manager at Genetic ID, a global food testing and certification company. He lives in New Zealand.

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